This is a serious review. Stop laughing at the back there. This is serious, damn you all.
Here is my review of Every Day The Same Dream, a game available on the site Molleindustria. I have played it. Its content is arguably agoraphobic, and not in the Wotsit-munching, pasty, bean-bag-dwellling sense applied to gamers by The Daily Mail. It’s so understatedly brilliant that I make no apology for the stony-browed words that follow, though I must apologise to readers and colleagues of the AR for sullying the pages of this hallowed forum with material that perhaps more properly belongs elsewhere.
This is no run-of-the-mill game, and yet everything about its ostensible narrative is run-of-the-mill. You are an unnamed employee for an unnamed office in an unnamed town. Your world is monochrome but for isolated splashes of colour. As the title suggests, the game runs through the same routine: you start in your bedroom. A red light blinks on the alarm clock by the bed. You turn it off. You walk to the wardrobe, in which hangs a jacket, shirt, and trousers. You dress for work. You go to the kitchen. A TV flickers with primary colours. By the stove is your wife, who greets you with ‘C’mon honey, you’re going to be late’. Moving out of the kitchen and into the hallway, you press a button to call the elevator. The button lights up. The elevator arrives. Inside the elevator is an elderly woman bent over a walking cane. She tells you: ‘Five more things and you will be a new man’. Incidentally, if you walk up to her, the hand in which she holds the cane is level with your crotch, but that’s neither here nor there.
From the elevator you find yourself outside the apartment building. A blue parking sign flickers on the right side of the building. Continuing to walk to the right, you are in a queue of slow-moving traffic. You reach work and are greeted by your boss. You are late. You are ordered to your cubicle. On the wall is a graph of the Company’s profits. The red line steadily declines over the course of the game. You pass rows of cubicles, filled with co-workers like yourself. Exactly like yourself. The camera pans out. More cubicles. It pans out. More cubicles. You locate your cubicle and sit to your work – what kind of work? We are not told. The picture fades and you are back in your bedroom with the red light blinking on the alarm clock.
Now, you could play this narrative through endlessly, until the death of time itself, until the mountains fall into the sea and X-Factor stops being popular. On this level, the game points to the mundane nature of human existence. It’s like Groundhog Day, only without Bill Murray (lose 1 point for failing to include Bill Murray). The title suggests that the day which you live over and over is a dream, but what is it a dream about? Is it pointing to the fact that our fantasies only entrap us deeper within our everyday lives? But, harken to the old lady in the elevator. She may have isosceles triangles for legs, but she is the key to the game.
‘Five more things and you will be a new man’.
There are five actions you can perform that will break the repetitive monotony of your routine, some more so than others, for some only return you to the same loop. The colours within the game (the light on the alarm clock, the Parking sign, the Company profits) seemingly offer hope that is no hope at all. The alarm clock alerts you to the fact that you are late. The Parking sign indicates you are one of many commuters whose cars herd up the road like cattle. The declining Company profits reflect the depressing decline of your vitality within this death-in-life.
Yet, as the Elevator Lady says, there are five things that will alter your perception of this monochrome existence, breaking the loop of the game. Other splashes of colour offer some degree of hope. The sole autumnal leaf that quivers on the branch of the tree: it is fragile, it is at the end of its life, and yet it also quivers with the last tremblings of life as it falls into your hand. The Fire Exit sign in the last cubicle frame glows green, again offering both despair and hope (if you play the game to the end, you’ll see). There’s a cow in a field. Yes, a cow. You pet it on the nose. It’s a lovely moment. I’d use the word poignant if I hadn’t banned it from off the face of the earth. Stop laughing, damn you to blazes, I love that cow.
Here I will say, if you haven’t played the game, play it. No, you haven’t anything better to do. Play it. What follows is an extreme spoiler – do not read any further unless you have played the game to completion (and you will, by God).
The leaf and the cow are but interruptions to the loop upon which you continue, but there are two ‘final’ aberrations to the routine that bookmark the game’s landscape. Walk left instead of right when you leave the apartment, and you encounter a Homeless who tells you he can take you somewhere quiet. It’s a graveyard. You return to the bedroom with the alarm clock blinking. You are not dead.This is one end of the spectrum of what I’ll have to call the semantics of death that the game employs. The other end of this spectrum is to walk past your cubicle in the office and off to the right. You find yourself on the roof of the building. You jump and return to the bedroom with the alarm clock blinking. You are not dead.
When you have completed the five things, the game does not offer you any explicit epiphany, but it is deeply unsettling. You wake up to find that your wife is gone. The Elevator Lady has gone. There is no traffic in the road. Your boss and co-workers are gone. Everything that presented and re-presented itself to you has gone, and it is suddenly awfully empty. You walk to the roof. You watch yourself jump. You are not dead: you’re watching yourself jump. Part of you has died. You are a new man.
That’s my interpretation of it anyway, and now I’m done.
Oh, and the music’s pretty cool, too.